Monthly Archives: December 2009

Happy New Year!

Kick off the New Year with a gratuitous ABBA video:


The TwShiloh year in review!

Some of the most popular posts and my favorites

I wrote this explanation of the difference between the Tactical, Operational, and the Strategic a while ago but it remains my most popular post by a huge margin. 

I attended a course in Intelligence analysis early this year and wrote a five part review of it.  More important than the specifics of the course, I tried to hit on a number of underlying themes that impact analysis generally which might be of interest to a more general audience.

During Halloween, a few bloggers did a remake of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds by live-blogging the invasion.  If you’ve got some time to kill, follow the various links around the internets…

And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t try to warn the world, yet again, about the threat from Swedish zombies

Some of the weird/disturbing search terms that directed people here in the past year:

  • zombie florists
  • stab wound through hand
  • unusual urinals
  • the metric system and dracula
  • is it wrong to play footsie with ur aunt (uh, yes it is -eds.)

Please indulge me – COIN and failed cities redux

I’m intending on taking a break from this subject because I’m afraid I’m just repeating myself, so this’ll be my last word on the matter for a bit unless something that really alters the landscape comes around (or, my fickle nature being what it is, I find myself unable to resist the latest shiny object dangled in front of me).

As I was reading General McChrystal’s Assessment of Afghanistan several items struck me as being equally relevant to any serious attempt to regain control of lawless areas.  I put them under the heading of ‘failed cities’ here since they’re the most stereotypical examples here in the states but I imagine there are rural areas that may fit the bill and certainly other countries may have their own lawless areas.

One final caveat before I go on, which I may have mentioned before but it’s worth repeating.

While I think COIN has some interesting things to say about how we might become more effective at addressing organized criminal activity in areas where government control is weak to non-existent I am most definitely NOT advocating a further militarization of our law enforcement agencies, tactics or judicial system.  I think we’ve gone quite far enough in that direction and rather, it’s the underlying principles (a population-centric focus), non-military practices (establishing rule of law, confidence building, quality of life improvements) and long term focus that I think has been woefully unexamined or applied.

So, that being said here are some passages I think could equally apply to many ‘failed cities’.  Which leads me to another caveat:

I am not making any claims about the equivalency of an insurgency and criminal activity in terms of intent or severity of activity.  Make no mistake about it, the Taliban and other insurgent groups in Afghanistan are much more brutal than any criminal group we currently face in the U.S. (on a comparable scale) and are politically motivated which very few of our criminal groups are.  That being said, my argument is that while their intent may differ the net result on the community is similar:  erosion of the rule of law, a climate of fear and intimidation, and decay of social/cultural/economic life.

“The relative level of civilian resources must be balanced with security forces, lest gains in security outpace civilian capacity for governance and economic improvements.  In particular, ensuring alignment of resources for immediate and rapid expansion into newly secured areas will require integrated civil-military planning teams that establish mechanisms for rapid response.”

Very few initiatives involving lawless areas involve a robust civilian component.  There are numerous financial, institutional and political reasons for that but one worth noting is that an attempt at what we consider to be ‘nation building’ here at home would be highly unpopular among suburban tax payers who already consider cities to be a big money pit from which their tax dollars provide no tangible benefits.  While we hear nary a peep from people about the massive waste and fraud spent in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan be rest assured, attempts to spend money to in inner cities will be met with screams of protest and warnings about ‘redistribution of wealth’.  Those people would have a point, however.  Most money spent wasn’t tied to measurable goals and so very often could be lost in a whirlpool of corruption, mismanagement or lack of sufficient coordination.  So…

ISAF’s tendency to measure the enemy prodominately by kinetic events masks the true extent of insurgent activity and prevents an accurate assessment of the insurgents’ intentions, progress, and level of control of the population.

That goes double when we’re talking about crime here in the states.  We count crime statistics.  Usually, law enforcement is prompted to act in significant ways only when there is a media grabbing event (a child shot in a drive by, a particularly violent attack, etc.).  Where are the assessments that a neighborhood is poised for an outburst of violence?  Where is the analysis looking at other factors to measure risk to a community?  Where are the proactive initiatives to prevent that sort of activity?  It’s just not there in any sort of systematic way.  You just have to hope that the right people are hearing the right things, transmitting them to a receptive leadership and getting the right response.  I call that the George Michael strategy.

HQ ISAF must understand and adapt to the immediacy of the contemporary information environment through the employment of new/social media…

Apart from a public affairs office, the COPS TV show and (if you’re lucky) a some sort of rudimentary sports outreach how does the government and its security forces get its message out there?  I understand government institutions (particularly law enforcement) are conservative in their culture but they really can’t afford to be if we expect significant changes in the crime environment.  Initiative and experimentation must not only be allowed but be encouraged.  We need to invest in information operations and shouldn’t shy away from trying new things.

ISAF does not sufficiently appreciate the dynamics in local communities, nor how the insurgency, corruption, incompetent officials, power-brokers, and criminality all combine to affect the Afghan population.  A focus by ISAF intelligence on kinetic targeting and a failure to bring together what is known about the political and social realm have hindered ISAF’s comprehension of the critical aspects of Afghan society.

Again, that’s even more true domestically where strategic intelligence is generally regarded as namby-pamby academic stuff with no real value.  Instead, everyone want to jump in with both feet to get the bad guy.  Madcap hilarity then ensues as either its discovered that we only succeeded in getting the stupid bad guy who hadn’t figured out how to keep a low profile or we get the right guy but business is so good that two new bad guys immediately jump up to take the old guy’s place.

Afghanistan reading

I just finished In Afghanistan by David Loyn which is an overview of Western (British, Russian and American) military intervention in the country with the majority of the book concerned with British involvement during the 19th century.  The book is rather slim (less than 250 pages) given the scope of the subject matter and the author prefers to hit several reoccurring themes rather than recount every battle, raid and ambush.  The consistent and repetitive overconfidence of the invaders would be humorous if we weren’t engaged in a war there right now, with every subsequent foray led by someone convinced that factors had changed since the last attempt and this time it’d be different.  Along with that was an equally consistent underestimation of the Afghans and their tenacity.

It was quite an engaging read, even if a bit depressing as I’m one of the few who still thinks our mission there can provide some sort of success.  I found it quite difficult to argue that this time it really would be different.

So…in the hopes of feeling a bit more optimistic I read the newly released COMISAF Assessment (H/T Washington Post) which was an document for both the SecDef and the Secretary General of NATO about the status of Afghanistan as well as Gen. McChrystal’s recommendations.

Well, apart from the assertion that the war isn’t lost, there isn’t a whole lot to get thrilled about here either.  The report is pretty straightforward about the numerous shortfalls our strategy up to now has come up short and I found myself reading the recommendations and being disappointed that we were only addressing these issues eight years into this thing.  Were we really that naive eight years ago to think we didn’t need to address these issues?

Some things that made me break out my highlighter:

…we face both a short and long-term fight.  The long-term fight will require patience and commitment, but I believe the short-term fight will be decisive.  Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) – while Afghan security capacity matures – risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.

This sentence makes the 18 month ‘withdrawal’  the president announced make some more sense.  If the momentum can’t be changed in 12-18 months then more troops and time ain’t gonna help.  If they do regain the initiative then extra troops shouldn’t be needed since local forces should be able to take on more of the burden.  I don’t know if I believe that but I’ll defer for now.

We must do things dramatically differently – even uncomfortably differently – to change how we operate, and also how we think.

I’ve been wondering if such a systemic change is possible in the short time period allotted.  I keep thinking about that senior enlisted soldier I spoke with who was convinced that a path to victory in Afghanistan was all about ‘sticking more bayonets into more people’.  The soldiers under his command aren’t going to get much chance to be exposed to COIN and what they are exposed to is likely to be discredited by their leadership.  It’s times like these that Thomas Barnett’s ‘SysAdmin’ force begins to make sense.

Tour lengths should be long enough to build continuity and ownership of success.

I’m not sure what the optimal length of tours should be but 10 months was certainly too short.  By OEF IV in mid-2003, Afghan commanders had already learned that if they weren’t getting the answers/kickbacks/special consideration they wanted from a particular commander they only had to wait a few months and they could try again with his replacement.  Besides that, it easily took 4 months or more to learn who the players in the immediate vicinity were and the last month (at least) were spent getting ready to ship out.

Definitely worth reading.

And if you’d like some more evidence that we aren’t really living in an unprecedented time of human history I re-recommend listening to The Tiber and the Potomac.  I’m still not through it but it keeps getting better the further you go.  What I originally feared was going to be a superficial “Hey!  We’re the new Rome” is, in fact, much better and Madden present some interesting ideas worth deeper consideration.

Why don’t they make toy peacekeepers?

Mark asks that question in response to a conversation he had with his son.  It got me thinking…why DOESN’T the UN make toy peacekeepers?  Apart from the potential revenue stream (and let’s face it, the UN could always use more money), think about it from an information operation potential.  Hand the things out to kids while you’re patrolling.  If they were really savvy, they could make a cartoon/comic centered around them to promote core values (like conflict resolution) and information (hey, don’t play in the minefield!)

And don’t tell me there wouldn’t be a significant interest in them.  Could you imagine, especially if you made peacekeepers from the various countries?  Who wouldn’t want  to collect the whole set?

i·ron·ic [ahy-ron-ik]

When a senator of a state which suffered catastrophic flooding and hurricane damage (which will likely become more common due to climate change) urges the president to jettison climate change legislation.

Can you hear that?

It’s the Lions of the North roaring towards Vancouver…A bit older but hopefully wiser and ready to get some gold.

(Please be aware that even though I usually can’t tell you if it’s football or baseball season and know less about sports than most toddlers, every four years I’m overtaken by a fever which makes me obsessed with the Olympics.  So, it’ll be a bumpy few weeks this February, please bear with me.)